Coming into this season, a lot of the so-called experts picked the Jena Giants to lose at least a couple of games in their non-district schedule and a lot of people said they would lose their first game of the season at home against Mangham. The Jena Giant seniors had other plans for this season though as they took it upon themselves to put in the work to go above and beyond and do what no other team has done in school history.
So, the Giants came into Week 14 of the Louisiana high school football season still without a loss. A week earlier the Giants set a new school record with the most wins in a season when they won their 12th game of the season in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. The Giants moved on to the semifinal round to take on the #4 Union Parish Farmers.
This would be the first time in school history that the Giants made it to the semifinal round while Union Parish was making its fifth straight appearance in the semifinal round. Union Parish was also attempting to win in the semifinals for the fourth straight year as they have finished as the state runner-up for the last three seasons.
The Giants have had some recent history with the Farmers as Union Parish ended Jena’s season in the second round of the playoffs in 2018 and 2021. Both of those games would be in Farmerville though as this year Union Parish would have to travel to Jena to take on the Giants. It would be a packed house at Guy Campbell Memorial Stadium as every local media outlet from the area would be in attendance.
The captains for the Giants would be seniors Zerrick Jones, Dylon Davis, Zach Barker, and Boots Green.
Union Parish would win the toss and would defer to the second half. For the second week in a row the Giants would get the ball first to start the game. Union Parish would strike first as on the third play of the game Jena quarterback Zach Barker would drop back to pass and would be sacked. He would fumble the ball and Union Parish defensive back Braxton Patterson would return it 23 yards for a touchdown to give the Farmers a 7-0 lead.
From that point the game would go as most predicted. Jena and Union Parish are both known for being strong in the trenches and having good defenses and run games. For the rest of the first half the defenses would show out as neither team would be able to score.
Jena would come the closest to scoring on offense as they would have a 13 play 51-yard drive that would end at the Union Parish 1 yard line after the Farmers recovered a Jena fumble. The teams would go into halftime with Union Parish holding a 7-0 lead.
In the second half, Union Parish would get the ball first and the Jena defense would stand strong as they would force a turnover on downs.
On the Giants’ first possession of the second half, Jena quarterback Zach Barker would find receiver Zy Hunter for a 62-yard touchdown pass. Zerrick Jones would score on the two-point conversion and the Giants would have their first lead of the game at 8-7.
Union Parish would answer right back on their next drive as they would go 67 yards in 8 plays ending with a Ryan Reeder 25yard field goal to give Union Parish a 10-8 lead.
The Giants would be forced to punt on three and out on their next two drives. Union Parish would score on a Jordan Hill touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to increase their lead to 17-8.
The Giants would put together a 10 play, 69-yard drive ending in a Zerrick Jones 8-yard touchdown run. Jones would score on the two-point conversion again and the Giants would be within one.
Union Parish would once again answer the score with one of their own as this time Jymarion Island would score on a 24-yard touchdown run to give Union Parish a 24-16 lead.
Union Parish would intercept a Jena pass on their last drive to end the Jena comeback bid and the Farmers would go on to win 24-16.
Zach Barker would finish the game with 140 passing yards and a passing touchdown for the Giants. Zy Hunter had 6 receptions for 127 yards and 1 touchdown in the game. Zerrick Jones would finish with 26 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Jacob Belcher led the Jena defense with 14 tackles in the game with 5 solos and a tackle for loss. Jacob Pentecost also had 10 tackles in the game for the Giants.
Even though the season ended a week earlier than we all wanted this group of Jena Giants have nothing to hang their heads about. This group has shown what this program is capable of. They have proven that the Jena Giants can make a deep run into the playoffs and be one of the best teams in the state.
This group of seniors have set so many records over their careers it’s hard to keep count. The Jena Giant seniors finished their career with 36 wins. They are the first team to earn the #1 seed in the playoffs. They are the first group to win district all four years and to never lose a district game in their career going 18-0 in district games.
They had only the third undefeated regular season in school history. They made the quarterfinal round of the playoffs twice in their careers. They are the first team to make it to the semifinal round. They set the record for most wins in a season with 12. They have the most career playoff wins by a senior class with six.
Zerrick Jones just had the best season by a running back in Jena history as he finished with 2,248 rushing yards and had 36 touchdowns on the season. Jones will also do something that has never been done in school history and that is become the District MVP for the third straight season. Jones finishes his career with the most rushing yards in a career as he finishes with 4,730 rushing yards and 66 rushing touchdowns in his career. Jones had 72 total touchdowns in his career.
This team also set a record this year for most points in a game as they scored 74 points at Buckeye. What more can you say about this team?
The job Head Coach Jay Roark and staff have done has been incredible to watch. They are one of the hardest working staffs in the state and we are so fortunate to have them leading our program. Coach Roark has said from day one that the goal is to win a state championship and he is proving that we aren’t very far away from accomplishing that. Coach Roark has 96 wins in his career and has nine playoff wins.
It has also been amazing to see the fan and community support throughout the season. Seeing the stadium packed with fans and being loud creating what many from around the state have now realized is one of the best atmospheres to watch a high school football game in the state. Guy Campbell Memorial Stadium had the spotlight on it this past Friday night as a large portion of the state got to take in the atmosphere and it didn’t disappoint from one of the best paint jobs on the field, to the fireworks, to the student section. So many people left the stadium impressed and now know how special a home game is for the Jena Giants.
Thank you, seniors, for a fun ride this year and for being trailblazers showing the groups that will come in the future that it is possible for the Jena Giants to make a deep playoff run.
Congratulations Giants! You have made the town proud!
Photos from the game: